Thursday, January 13, 1994 - 1:30 p.m.
Speaker: I will now call the House to order. We will begin with Prayers.
Speaker: We will proceed with the Order Paper.
Introduction of Visitors.
Are there any Returns or Documents for tabling?
TABLING RETURNS AND DOCUMENTS
Hon. Mr. Phillips: I have some documents to table.
Hon. Mr. Devries: I have two legislative returns.
Speaker: Are there any Reports of Committees?
Petition No. 6
Mr. Millar: I have a petition to present today, which was given to me by a group of citizens in Dawson City, requesting better government.
It states, We believe successive Canadian governments have allowed deficits to grow to near unmanageable proportions. We require that elected and appointed legislators take immediate action to remedy this situation, which threatens to bankrupt our future; therefore, the undersigned demand that governments use all reasonable means and ends to balance budgets and pay down debt as soon as possible. We, the undersigned, acknowledge that a reduction in government spending will have to be part of an overall solution.
There are approximately 180 signatures.
Speaker: Introduction of Bills.
Are there any Notices of Motion for the Production of Papers?
Are there any Notices of Motion?
Are there any Statements by Ministers?
This then brings us to Question Period.
Question re: Economic forecast
Mr. McDonald: I have a question for the Minister of Economic Development. The Minister knows the importance of economic forecasting in assisting those involved with public policy development and in helping to guide the actions of the Legislature. We know that many people and businesses in our communities are feeling very nervous about the Yukon economic prospects for this coming year. The Minister said six weeks ago that he had seen the draft of the winter Economic Forecast and that he was preparing to have it printed for public consumption. Where is it?
Hon. Mr. Devries: Upon review of the draft, there are many problems with it and I am not prepared to table it at this time.
Mr. McDonald: What in heavens name does the Minister mean by, There are many problems with the forecast? Is the Minister reversing his position that no one in government, no communications officer and no one, will edit this document to make it more politically palatable or acceptable? Is the Minister going to be providing us with a document that tells the truth, as they know it, about our economic fortunes?
Hon. Mr. Devries: As I answered the first question, at this point I do not have anything that I feel is suitable to present in this House.
Mr. McDonald: What is the Minister hiding about the Yukons economic future? What reasons do they have? Be specific. What reasons do they have for hiding this document from public view, which he promised to give to the House?
Hon. Mr. Devries: My feeling is that the thing is full of inaccuracies, and I am not prepared to present it in its present form.
Question re: Economic forecast
Mr. McDonald: The whole point of economic forecasting was to have economists do a review of Yukons economic fortunes so that public policy makers could assess the state of various economic sectors within our community and ultimately allow people in this Legislature to make reasoned judgments about things such as budgets and legislation.
Why does the Minister feel that his own personal judgment about the economy is superior to that of the economists in his department, given his own performance in terms of defending the economic development estimates, and why would he feel that it is legitimate for a politician to vet a forecast that is supposed to be an unbiased assessment of the economy? Why should a politician vet the forecast so that it is more politically acceptable?
Hon. Mr. Devries: Again, on review, I found inaccuracies in it, and I am not prepared to present a document that is inaccurate and have people make decisions based on something that is not giving an accurate story.
Mr. McDonald: Is the Minister saying that he has found inaccuracies in the economic forecasting for the territory? He cannot answer simple questions about economic policy, yet he can judge a document about the economic fortunes of the territory that is normally judged by economists. Is he not really saying that the communications people in his government have decided to suppress this particular document because the economic forecast is bleaker than the government wants to paint it at this time?
Hon. Mr. Devries: As I indicated, there are inaccuracies and predictions in there that are not true. I am not prepared to present that type of a document in this House.
Mr. McDonald: It is an absolutely outrageous position that the Minister is trying to take here. Can the Minister tell us precisely what inaccuracies he was referring to? Can he tell us why he has such low confidence in the economists in his department that he will not issue what is normally just a standard publication of the Department of Economic Development? Why will he not issue it for public consumption?
Hon. Mr. Devries: I have not had an opportunity to sit down with the economists and discuss it in the last few days but I will be sitting down with them and discussing it.
Question re: Whitehorse water and sewer facility
Mr. Cable: I have some questions for the Minister of Community and Transportation Services on the Whitehorse sewage system.
The land negotiations have been going on for some time with respect to the proposed site for the system. Is the Minister in a position to assure this House that the site chosen by the City of Whitehorse will be turned over to it?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: The issue is before the Land Claims Secretariat. My understanding is that we have made an agreement with the Taan Kwachan. It is just a matter of getting the legal language all put together.
Mr. Cable: That is reassuring. The negotiations have started and stopped before with respect to a previous site. In the event that the negotiations are not successfully concluded with the Taan Kwachan, does the Minister have a contingency plan for another site?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: No, we do not.
Mr. Cable: In the event that the negotiations do fall through and the City of Whitehorse proceeds to spend money on planning, engineering and clearing, and through no fault of the City of Whitehorse, is the government prepared to reimburse the City of Whitehorse for those costs?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: Let us hope that is not in the cards. We do not believe it is right now at all, but I think that the Member opposite is aware that we are paying 85 percent of the costs. Any costs incurred by the City of Whitehorse, if this worst case scenario did happen, would be reimbursed to at least 85 percent.
Question re: Economic forecast
Mr. McDonald: I have not quite settled down from the last round of questions. I would like to ask the Minister one more set of follow-up questions respecting his decision to politically vet what is otherwise an unbiased document about economic forecasting so that Yukoners will only hear what they are told to hear by the politicos on the front bench on the government side.
The Minister said six weeks ago, on December 2, that he had already seen a draft of the winter economic forecast and that it was virtually ready for publication. The Minister stated that he wanted to show the publication to his Cabinet colleagues a day in advance before it was actually released. Can the Minister tell us whether or not he was able to discern the glaring errors and inaccuracies in this document put forward by the economists? Would the Minister also tell us if he immediately discussed those inaccuracies with the department when he first received the document?
Hon. Mr. Devries: I initially had some questions when I reviewed the draft, and I was not satisfied with the changes that were made. I am not prepared to present that document at this time.
Mr. McDonald: The Minister committed himself six weeks ago, and I have the Hansard quote in front me, specifically stating that he would never, ever try to correct the document or amend the document in any way. He actually took umbrage at my suggestion that he might do that.
I am wondering why the Minister may have told me something that was not true, on December 2, about this particular document and why was he vetting the document when he told me he would never do that?
Hon. Mr. Devries: I do not feel that they are political errors. I feel they are errors in fact and judgment.
Mr. McDonald: So the Minister is saying that his understanding of the economic interrelationships in the territory are vastly superior to those of the economists in his department. Can he tell us whether or not the communications advisor, Mr. Drown, has had a chance to review this document? Does he also feel that there are problems associated with it?
Hon. Mr. Devries: Everyone to whom I have shown the document feels that there are concerns about it. There are definitely some problems with some of the facts.
Question re: Forestry, raw log export
Mr. Harding: I have a question for the Minister of Renewable Resources. I would like to ask the Minister about raw log export policy. The issue has been talked about in quite a lengthy fashion for the last few days and for quite some time in the Yukon. There are a lot of people concerned - for example, the Kaska Forest Products and other operators in the Watson Lake area - about the governments policy in this area. Could the Minister tell us what the governments policy is about raw log export?
Hon. Mr. Brewster: As I have said several times in the Legislature, we are trying to develop our policies. Right now, the federal government has a say in it. We have indicated to them that we do not want a lot more log exports.
Mr. Harding: It is very interesting, because on April 20, 1993, I asked the Minister the very same question that I asked him and he replied to me that there is a policy now being prepared and it will go before Cabinet next week. When we did not hear anything about it on May 12, my colleague for Mount Lorne asked a question of the Minister.
She asked if the Minister had taken a policy to Cabinet on the export of raw logs. The Minister replied, Yes, I have. When the Member for Mount Lorne asked the Minister to tell the House what it is, he said he would be making a ministerial statement shortly. We are still waiting for that. What is the Yukon governments policy on raw log export?
Hon. Mr. Brewster: We are trying to make a policy. We do not have control of the situation at all. It is still with the federal government and it is beginning to look like it will remain there for some time.
Mr. Harding: The Minister told the Legislature on May 12 - eight months ago - that he had already taken a policy on raw log export to Cabinet. What was the document he took to Cabinet? Was it a raw log export policy and if it was, what happened to it? Where did it disappear to?
Hon. Mr. Brewster: We thought by April of this year we would have control of forestry. It is now quite apparent that we will not have control.
Question re: Forestry, raw log export
Mr. Harding: This has nothing to do with federal government involvement. It would be irresponsible for the Yukon government to assume control over forestry and have a policy gap in this important area of raw log export. The day we take over control of forestry, we should have a raw log export policy in effect.
Why has the Minister backtracked on this raw log export policy announcement and the commitment he made to this Legislature?
Hon. Mr. Brewster: We have made it very clear that it will possibly take us a year to get our policy into effect. That is why we are now working on a bridging agreement with the federal government, so they will run it under contract until October.
Mr. Harding: I hate going back and forth with this Minister, but he never gives us an answer to our questions. He told the Legislature he had already taken a policy to Cabinet, and he was going to make a ministerial statement some eight months ago. We need a policy in effect for raw log exports the day the Yukon government takes over control of forestry.
What was the policy the Minister took to Cabinet some eight months ago? What did it say about raw log exports? Why can he not stand up today in this Legislature and tell us what it was?
Hon. Mr. Brewster: I think I have said that several times. We do not agree with raw log export, except in extraordinary cases, such as the situation with the Kaska, when they needed the money to build a mill. I think I have said that four or five times in the House.
Mr. Harding: We are confused about the governments policy direction here. On January 11, 1994, the Minister said in the Legislature, My personal opinion, if the Member wants to count that, is that I would prefer that they be manufactured in the Yukon., when speaking of raw log export.
Are they going to be renewing the Kaska Forest Products licence? Do they support the Kaska Forest Products business plan?
Hon. Mr. Brewster: That is an agreement between the federal government and the Kaska. We are consulting with them. They have not made a decision yet, and they do not have to make one until April 1.
Question re: Forestry, raw log export
Mr. Harding: The forestry transfer is imminent, and has been for some time. I am very disturbed that the government cannot stand today and enunciate what their raw log policy is going to be. They actually told this Legislature, some eight or nine months ago, that they had a policy already before Cabinet. Now, they are not prepared to tell us what that was. Obviously, something has gone awry here.
Can they tell us if they plan to give us a better answer than they did last time, to renew the business plan of Kaska Forest Products? They are going to have to be involved in the licensing requirements. I heard federal officials on the radio saying that very thing this morning.
Hon. Mr. Brewster: They are still negotiating with them. I am not going to get into that and bring it up in public. It is private business with the Kaska and, until they have made arrangements, it is going to remain the way it is until it is announced.
Mr. Harding: This is a matter of some public urgency and there are a lot of people concerned about it in the Yukon. Can I ask the Minister this then: does the Minister feel that existing cut rates in the Watson Lake area for forestry are sustainable and acceptable, and do they have any silviculture studies on which they are basing opinions, and could they provide them for the Legislature?
Hon. Mr. Brewster: I wonder which one of those questions is the one I am supposed to answer. Quite frankly, as far as silviculture is concerned, we have already tried it and are working at it through the economic development agreement. We are doing our best to do it and I will not give a personal opinion of whether there are enough logs to sustain the industry. We do not know where forestry is going to want to go from here.
Mr. Harding: I am disappointed that the Minister will not give a personal opinion, because most often he just loves to do that. There are a lot of other operators in the Watson Lake area who have some concerns about the sustainability of their operations, if things continue on as they are.
Can I ask the Minister what the Yukon government is going to do to ensure that other existing forest industry operators can continue to operate in the Watson Lake area?
Hon. Mr. Brewster: All we can do is continue to work with the federal forestry resources. We are working quite well with them and will do our best to see that everybody is able to get some logging done.
Question re: Abattoir
Mr. McDonald: I have a question for the Minister of Community and Transportation Services. After questions were put in the Legislature about the Yukon Agricultural Associations abattoir proposal, all Members were left with the distinct impression that Ministers would take a hands-on approach to getting the project back on track. I think the Minister even said that he would head that steering committee. The next steering committee meeting, which was held immediately after those questions, not only did not see any Ministers in attendance, but saw officials take a particularly harsh line on the lands question.
Why did the Ministers fail to live up to their promise to personally participate with industry to get the project going?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: There is a meeting scheduled for tomorrow afternoon with the Ministers and the deputy ministers of the respective departments.
Mr. McDonald: I would like to know, at some point, when the Minister is going to get personally involved, as he said he would, and by personal participation I did not mean that he personally tell officials to speak on the Ministers behalf.
Is it the case that the departments representatives insisted that the Yukon Agricultural Association continue pursuing Lot 288, instead of the alternative land site worked out between the Yukon Agricultural Association and the Kwanlin Dun First Nation?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: We did not instruct officials to act on our behalf. It is just that we have not been able to arrange to have this meeting until tomorrow afternoon, and we will have that meeting tomorrow afternoon.
With respect to the second part of the question, my understanding was that the lands branch people encouraged the Agricultural Association - did not insist, but encouraged them - not to drop the application on Lot 288, generally because of the amount of money that has already been spent on that location.
Mr. McDonald: It is a financial question for the Government of Yukon, and whether or not they want to anger the Kwanlin Dun Band is just a side issue, I presume.
Can the Minister tell us whether or not the Ministers gave officials the mandate to tell the Yukon Agricultural Association that they should consider only 20 acres for the abattoir proposal and, in effect, thereby tossing out the current business plan that depends on a larger parcel of land for the project to be viable?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I am certainly not aware of any Minister instructing any officials to tell the association that we would only consider 20 acres. However, they may very well, due to debate in this House, have come to that conclusion. I cannot second guess what their reasoning for that was, if that was what they were instructing the association to do.
Question re: Minimum wage
Mrs. Firth: I have a question for the Minister of Tourism.
The Ministers colleague at the other end of the bench made an announcement in the Legislature on January 4, during Question Period, that he had asked the board to come forward with recommendations about raising the minimum wage. I assume he was talking about the Employment Standards Board.
I would like to ask the Minister what his policy is with respect to raising the minimum wage.
Hon. Mr. Phillips: That will have to be a Cabinet decision. It has not come to Cabinet yet. When it does, I guess we will have to make that decision.
Mrs. Firth: I heard the Minister stand up in the House the other night in response to some questioning by the Member for Faro. The Minister of Tourism said, at that time, and I quote, I have to be concerned about any event whatsoever that could have an impact on tourism. I think this would have an impact. I would like to ask the Minister what his departments position is with respect to raising the minimum wage.
Hon. Mr. Phillips: I can tell the Member that even some of the businesses in tourism have expressed their concerns about some of the wages that are paid. With some of those wages, it makes it difficult to retain employees.
As for the Department of Tourism making a decision, I am, as I said before, concerned about any increases that will impact on tourism. When that comes before Cabinet, I will be involved in those kinds of discussions.
Mrs. Firth: Can the Minister tell us if he has any idea of the impact on tourism that an increase in the minimum wage would have?
Hon. Mr. Phillips: Any increase in costs to the tourism industry has an impact on tourism. As to exact figures, no, I do not have those exact figures because we do not know if the minimum wage is even going to increase and how much it would increase, so I have no way of knowing those costs at this time.
Question re: Whitehorse waterfront development
Mr. Cable: I have some further questions for the Minister of Community and Transportation Services, relating to the City of Whitehorse waterfront development. In November, the Government Leader indicated that he was in the process of trying to facilitate participation of the City of Whitehorse, the two local First Nations - the Taan Kwachan and the Kwanlin Dun - and his government in some type of planning forum for the development of the Whitehorse waterfront. Has that planning forum been set up yet?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I am not sure. I believe staff from the Department of Community and Transportation Services, and possibly from other departments, have been working with staff from the city on some waterfront development. As yet, we have not met at a senior level. There have not been any actual meetings, but the invitation to start those meetings was again extended to the Mayor of the City of Whitehorse.
Mr. Cable: The Minister, on various occasions in the House, has indicated that some sort of formal planning forum would be, in fact, desirably set up. Could the Minister indicate why this formal forum involving those four parties that I mentioned has not been set up?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: As I stated earlier, I believe there is a group at the staff level. For a number of reasons, there has not been a group set up at the senior executive level. We did speak yesterday with the Mayor of the City of Whitehorse and again extended an invitation to him to participate in such a forum.
Mr. Cable: I have been curious why the City of Whitehorse has not taken action against the government for the mess along the waterfront on the YTG property.
Is the Minister prepared to commit to landscaping the portion of the waterfront that belongs to the territorial government in anticipation of the upcoming tourism events for the remainder of the decade?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I do not think that I would commit to any one aspect of this. We do have to get together with the city and decide who is going to do what. I think that the Member opposite has raised a fairly good point about the decade of anniversaries, as my colleague from Tourism is calling it. I think that it is important that we do start working on the waterfront. I do not want to commit to one specific that may or may not be part of an overall, long-term project.
Question re: Highway maintenance
Ms. Moorcroft: My question is for the Minister responsible for the safety of Yukoners driving on our highways this winter.
Now that winter has at last arrived, our office has heard from many constituents who are concerned about the unsafe driving conditions that they are encountering. For example, there have been four rollovers at Marshall Creek near Haines Junction in the last four days. The stretch of highway between the Haines Junction and Mackintosh Lodge is extremely treacherous.
Could the Minister tell this House if there has been any change in policy about plowing and sanding of Yukon highways?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: My information is that one person has been in the ditch twice, in that particular area. The Member opposite may have information that I do not have, so there may have been four rollovers.
The governments policy has not changed. One of my staff spoke with the superintendent of highways this morning and they were going to check into the conditions of the road in that area. I believe that the road has been plowed, and if sand is necessary the road will be sanded.
Ms. Moorcroft: This concern about road safety is shared by constituents all over the territory. We have been told that the Campbell Highway, the Klondike Highway and stretches of the Alaska Highway have not been sanded, and in some cases not even plowed. I know that when the roads are icy it is both unsafe and very unnerving to drive on them. Will the Minister instruct his department to sand the highways right away?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I am not the superintendent of highways. The highway crew plows the road when necessary and as expediently as possible, and when the roads are in need of sanding they will be sanded.
Ms. Moorcroft: I know, as a rural resident, that it is often difficult for the territorys highway crews to tackle every tricky stretch right away, and they have to prioritize their plowing and sanding efforts. What our constituents want to know, residents who are used to driving in winter conditions, is what are the priorities when they see an apparent decline in the standard of service? My question is simply this: will the Minister undertake to have the sand trucks out right away?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: The snowplows and the sanding trucks go out as soon as they are able.
Question re: Antifreeze
Ms. Moorcroft: My question is for the Minister of Community and Transportation Services. In the wake of the waste-oil controversy, a constituent has drawn to my attention the fact that antifreeze should also be a concern to the public. Although it is considered a restricted product or household hazardous waste, there is no collection tank for antifreeze at the landfill site. Householders can turn their antifreeze over to the government during the spring hazardous waste collection, but for day-to-day collection there is nothing in place. Antifreeze is poured down the drains, into our sewage system and eventually in the Yukon River. When will the Department of Community and Transportation Services provide the legislation or regulations needed to control the disposal of antifreeze in the Yukon so that the environment is not at risk?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I was not aware that there was not a place to dispose of antifreeze at this time. The regulations should be ready for Cabinet consideration in the next couple of months.
Ms. Moorcroft: My constituents are concerned about the time it is taking to develop and implement the regulations needed to fully enact the Environment Act. In southern Canada, commercial garages must store their used antifreeze for subsequent recoveries and non-compliance can lead to a fine of up to $10,000. In the Yukon, antifreeze is going down the drain. To what extent has the Minister explored the regulation or legislation of antifreeze disposal with the federal government and other jurisdictions?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: In the regulations that are being developed, I believe antifreeze is referred to. The people who are in charge of developing those regulations are quite aware of all the other jurisdictions current legislation on that particular subject.
Ms. Moorcroft: By bringing these concerns forward, we certainly hope the Minister will also take more of an interest. Antifreeze is a hazardous household waste and, if consumed, people and pets can become seriously ill, or even die from it. This issue is of some importance, and I would like to know what the Minister thinks of it.
What is the Ministers position on controlling the disposal of antifreeze and other household hazardous waste? Does he support the status quo of pouring antifreeze down the drain?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: The regulations are being developed, and antifreeze and other such waste are referred to in them. In the meantime, I cannot say that there is no antifreeze being poured down the drain. There may very well be some. The garages do retain the stuff that is generated at their particular service station and, in March of this year, we will be doing another clean-up around the territory. A lot of it will be disposed of at that time.
Question re: Yukon Housing Corporation, proposal requests
Mrs. Firth: I have a question for the Minister responsible for the Yukon Housing Corporation about a controversial contract that has been tendered. This question is more with respect to the documentation and information the Minister tabled in the House.
I am looking at a document called 19-unit Proposal Call, November 10, 1993, Review. The last page of that document is a fax transmission memo, to the attention of Maurice Albert, from the manager of the commercial banking group at the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce.
Why did the Housing Corporation get this memo from the bank?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: There was some question about whether the bank had divulged some information. When that was brought to the attention of the bank, they responded with that particular memo.
Mrs. Firth: Was the bank requested to provide this information, in writing, to the Yukon Housing Corporation?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: It may very well have been requested by the staff of Yukon Housing Corporation. It was not requested by me.
Mrs. Firth: I would like to ask the Minister why it was tabled in the House. What is its relevance to this whole discussion? Was the person who wrote the memo made aware of the fact that it was going to become a public document?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: It is my understanding that the bank was made aware that it would be included in part of that report. However, I do not know if they knew the report would be tabled in the House.
Question re: Plastic bottles
Mr. Penikett: I have a question for the same Minister.
Each year, some 350,000 plastic pop bottles are sold in the Yukon. Most of them end up in the landfill sites. This might be a good source of revenue for the Raven Recycling Centre and might allow that centre to handle more recyclables, such as cardboard and newspapers.
Since the Environment Act sets out a time line for drafting regulations, when is the government going to bring them in to set up a refund for the return of plastic pop bottles?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I am not sure whether or not the regulations that are being created at this time include plastic pop bottles. I will have to take the question under advisement.
Mr. Penikett: I thank the Minister for that commitment. Since rumours persist that the government is contemplating contracting out various parts of the current recycling operations, as well as landfills in some communities, with the constraints from the city, does the Government of Yukon plan to continue its support of the operations of the Raven Recycling Centre? For example, are there any plans to tender out the recycling of aluminum cans to a local pop dealer? I might point out that the pop cans are one of only two areas where the centre makes a profit.
Hon. Mr. Brewster: We have made it very plain that we would be having a complete review of the entire situation of recycling this year. We will look at the recycling of all material.
Mr. Penikett: That is a fairly terrifying prospect. Let me put the last question to whichever Minister wants to answer it, because it concerns the jurisdiction of both the Minister of Community and Transportation Services and the Minister of Renewable Resources.
Without additional revenues, the recycling program development in this territory would grind to a halt and Raven Recycling, in particular, could close. Given the huge benefits of recycling, including the benefits of reducing landfill needs by 50 percent in the year 2000 - something which the government is supposed to be committed to - has this government considered, in the interests of the public and in keeping with the intentions of the Yukon Conservation Strategy, approaching the City of Whitehorse with a view to entering into a joint venture to support the efforts of recycling in the territory and the Recycling Centre in particular?
Hon. Mr. Brewster: I will take that under advisement because I am unaware of any conversation between the two. It is a very interesting supplementary.
Speaker: Time for Question Period has now elapsed.
We will proceed to Orders of the Day.
ORDERS OF THE DAY
Hon. Mr. Phillips: I move that the Speaker do now leave the Chair and the House resolve into Committee of the Whole.
Speaker: It has been moved by the Government House Leader that the Speaker do now leave the Chair and that the House resolve into Committee of the Whole.
Motion agreed to
Speaker leaves the Chair
COMMITTEE OF THE WHOLE
Chair: I will now call Committee of the Whole to order.
Is it the wish of the Members to take a brief recess at this time?
Some Hon. Member: Agreed.
Chair: We will take a brief recess.
Chair: I will now call Committee of the Whole to order.
Bill No. 12 - First Appropriation Act, 1994-95 - continued
Department of Tourism - continued
Chair: We are dealing with Bill No. 12, in the Department of Tourism, under the heading of Development. We are discussing Product Development.
On Development - continued
On Product Development - continued
On Signs and Interpretation - continued
Mr. McDonald: Could the Minister give us a list of the projects that he was proposing here? Signs and interpretation is $100,000 and there are usually some significant priorities. Can the Minister tell us what those expenditures are for?
Hon. Mr. Phillips: The expenditure is for the construction and installation of border crossing signs, installation and replacement of advance warning signs, upgrading and replacement of some existing interpretative signs, development of the gold rush anniversary interpretative strategy and development of an orientation and interpretive site that will be determined in consultation with the RCMP after review of the route of the Northwest Mounted Police in 1895. The location will either be on the Klondike or Alaska Highway.
Mr. McDonald: What portion of the $100,000 is going to be dedicated to strategy development?
Hon. Mr. Phillips: We will be sharing our cost with other agencies and we expect it to be in the $10,000 to $15,000 range.
Signs and Interpretation in the amount of $100,000 agreed to
On Regional Planning Implementation
Hon. Mr. Phillips: This is to develop public sector projects; for example, highway pull-off signage recommended in Teslin and Kluane tourism plan in partnership with the communities.
Mr. McDonald: The Minister listed projects such as the ones that he mentioned. Could he tell us whether or not those are specifically the projects that they are pursuing this year - the pull-off at Teslin and the later one they mentioned.
Hon. Mr. Phillips: Yes, those two areas are the tourism plans that are completed. They have recommended some signage in those two areas and that is where our priority is this year.
Regional Planning Implementation in the amount of $50,000 agreed to
On Fed./Terr. Contribution Agreement
Hon. Mr. Phillips: This is the economic development agreements.
Mr. McDonald: I am puzzled here with respect to the economic development agreement contribution. I was under the impression that the Tourism economic development agreement was funded through Economic Development. What is being anticipated here?
Hon. Mr. Phillips: Any Tourism expenditures on approved projects would be charged here and then recovered from Economic Development. For example, in 1993-94, they used $300,000 for European marketing.
Mr. McDonald: The forecast for the current fiscal year does not seem to show any knowledge of any expenditures. Why is that?
Hon. Mr. Phillips: This year, we do not anticipate the department carrying out any of its own projects. The ones we do carry out will depend on the Tourism Marketing Council and TIA and the recommendations from others. Until we know, we cannot put a dollar item in the budget.
Fed./Terr. Contribution Agreement in the amount of $1.00 agreed to
Development in the amount of $735,000 agreed to
On Visitor Reception Centres
On Low Frequency Radio Transmitters
Hon. Mr. Phillips: This is the standard $25,000 that has been spent on this line item for some years. The funds are to revise, update and produce new radio programming.
Low Frequency Radio Transmitters in the amount of $25,000 agreed to
On Television, Audio-Visual and Other Equipment
Hon. Mr. Phillips: This project involves funding for the purchase and installation of TV monitors, videocassette recorders, stands and speakers in all VRCs to allow visitors to view a variety of shows on the Yukon. A three-year cycle of replacement is required for the equipment. Without this, the equipment could not be used. This is the three-year time period, so the budget is increased to replace some worn out equipment.
Television, Audio-Visual and Other Equipment in the amount of $46,000 agreed to
On Yukon VRC Development
Hon. Mr. Phillips: This main item is for the personal safety audit. The Yukon VRC is in an isolated location, remote from other places of businesses and is staffed primarily by women. They occasionally work alone, and the personal safety audit was conducted in June 1993. It examined features such as lighting, sight lines, possible entrapment sites, escape routes and nearby land usage. As a result of the audit, we are expected to spend $20,000 in this area in order to improve the safety of the staff in the building.
Mr. McDonald: The VRC was scheduled to have some landscaping done in the current fiscal year. Was that landscaping done? I saw, at the beginning of the year, brown dirt in front of the Whitehorse VRC and again at the end of the season. I was under the impression that there was going to be grass and some attempts to actually make it look reasonably attractive, instead of like a construction site.
Hon. Mr. Phillips: Yes, that was tendered. We decided to go with the back side of the building that faces the mountains. A berm has been put in there. It has all been landscaped and planted with wildflowers and other plants, with trails, and all the things landscapers do.
The front part of the building was not done. We may look at just planting some grass on a temporary basis. We would eventually like to change the entranceway into the VRC, because we have had a lot of complaints about the distance people have to walk, and how they find their way in. We feel that a better access would be created right off the Alaska Highway, with parking right in front of the building, and then possibly exit past the Transportation Museum. We did not have enough money to put that in the budget for this year, so it will have to be looked at as a future project.
Mr. McDonald: In the interim, did the Minister say he was going to grass the front of the VRC this summer? One of the things people see when they first drive along the highway is the roadside frontage of the VRC, and they see what looks like a construction site. It is not as attractive as it might be.
Is the Minister going to grass this? It is not a significant cost.
Hon. Mr. Phillips: Yes, we are looking at that as an inexpensive way to do it. We want to do something that is low maintenance. I would suggest to the Member that even once we grass it people will come by, look at the building, and feel that it is still under construction. I have had many comments from people about that.
We are looking at possibly hydroseeding it on a temporary basis, to make it look a little more attractive than just a big clay opening, with a construction site appearance.
Yukon VRC Development in the amount of $20,000 agreed to
On VRC Capital Maintenance
Hon. Mr. Phillips: This is a responsibility that has been transferred from Government Services. Major repairs are needed to various visitor reception centres to maintain operation of the facilities, suitable for visitors. It includes replacing carpets, upholstering the seats in the audio-visual rooms, interior painting and other upgrading to meet Yukon building codes.
VRC Capital Maintenance in the amount of $70,000 agreed to
On Prior Years Projects
Prior Years Projects in the amount of nil agreed to
On Travel Marketing Equipment, Displays and Productions
On Purchase and Maintenance of Displays
Hon. Mr. Phillips: This is for the pop-up portable displays that are used by government and private sector in travel trade consumer and convention promotions, and the need for updating it with new materials.
Purchase and Maintenance of Displays in the amount of $15,000 agreed to
On Production of Audio Visual Shows
Hon. Mr. Phillips: In 1993-94, a photo shoot was completed, and the 1994-95 funds are required to edit film material obtained from German television to produce a Yukon film video. They have generously allowed us to use all the film footage that, I believe, Hardy Krugers group shot, and they shot hours and hours of footage up here. They have given it to us, and this is going to save us a big pile of money over what it would cost to do it ourselves. We are going to be able to use their film and this money is going to be used to edit it into a Yukon type of film.
Mr. McDonald: What is the purpose of this film? Where is the film going to be shown? I know that in the past there has been concern about the slide show that was produced for the visitor reception centre in Whitehorse - as beautiful as it was, it was very much focussed on the federal park services in the territory and was not as representative of what we imagine the total Yukon to be all about. Is any of the material here going to be used to replace the federal slide show?
Hon. Mr. Phillips: We could use parts of this down the road for that, but that is not the intent. This is to put together some promotional videos so that when people go to travel trade shows, and that kind of thing, they can have a video with some good footage that will lure people to the Yukon. There is a plan down the road - not this year but down the road - to put together another video that will lure people to all other parts of the Yukon and it will be used, not as a replacement for the Parks Canada video, but in addition to the Parks Canada one, where we might show one one day or at one one hour in the morning and the other later on, alternating the films through the day. But we have not even made the film yet, so it is at least another year down the road before that will happen.
Production of Audio Visual Shows in the amount of $40,000 agreed to
Marketing in the amount of $216,000 agreed to
Chair: Is there any debate on arts?
On Visual Arts
On Visual Arts Acquisition
Hon. Mr. Phillips: This is our contribution to the Friends of the Gallery, which allows them to purchase Yukon works for their collection.
Mr. Penikett: I have a question that I do not want the Minister to take as an inquiry about seeking legal opinions, but some time ago, I became aware that there is some question, dispute or division of opinion about who actually owns the works acquired by the Friends of the Gallery. Are those works of art the property of the Friends of the Gallery or the people of the Yukon in the name of the Government of Yukon?
I understand, as excellent as their management of this collection is, that this problem only becomes more complicated as the government begins to acquire works of art in the forms of gifts from other jurisdictions.
I wonder if the arts branch, since its establishment, has had reason to look into this question and clarify it?
Hon. Mr. Phillips: I would have to get back to the Member on that. I know that the question has been asked, but I do not have the answer at my fingertips today. I will have to get back to the Member on that.
Mr. Penikett: I would appreciate the Member getting back to me on it. He will understand that, depending on the answer, there are some other questions that logically flow, such as the insurance on the collection.
Without taking up too much time today, perhaps the Minister might invite his officials to ask themselves the logical questions, and if they have an answer to those questions, provide them in the same legislative return.
Hon. Mr. Phillips: I will do that.
Visual Arts Acquisition in the amount of $6,000 agreed to
On Arts Acquisition Endowment Fund
Mr. McDonald: I think at one point the fund was meant to be funded through a percentage of the capital works program. What is the governments policy with respect to this fund? Can we expect to see any contributions toward the fund in the coming year?
Hon. Mr. Phillips: At this present time, our government would rather wait until we are in a better financial position before we apply this particular levy to various capital projects. We are trying to keep the cost of all capital projects down and get a handle on the budget.
Mr. Penikett: This is an important point because the reason the previous government adopted the policy of a one-percent charge on public buildings was because the owner of the facility or the people who were going to provide arts will find it extremely expensive to do later. If you have to furnish a major new building with art, such as what happened with the justice building, you will find the outlay in one year is a very considerable sum of money. A financially strapped government will find themselves in the embarrassing position of never being able to do it and left with potentially undecorated space.
I heard on the radio, just the other day, that the norm in the Vancouver area for all public buildings - I gather municipal, provincial and federal - is in the range of two or three percent of the cost of the building. We had suggested a levy of one percent. Without provoking long debates on this, the Minister and I both know that there is enough slack in our public buildings, when we are talking about architect fees or other considerations, that it is far better, for this department, to extract from other major building departments, especially schools and Government Services, a commitment to make this kind of contribution as buildings go up, even if the work is not all purchased at one time. This is a real problem, as there is a feast-or-famine problem for the artist. If you can go out with a one-time expenditure every time you open a building, the artist then starves for the next two or three years until another building comes along.
We thought it was better, not only for the arts community but also for the government, to establish a revolving fund in this matter, even one percent of the public buildings, which can be budgeted on an annual basis, and obtain quality local art for display in the public buildings and do it in an economic fashion. I just make a representation; I am not really asking a question.
Hon. Mr. Phillips: We have left it as a $1.00 item in the budget, so it is still there. It may be something I can ask the arts branch to look at in the context of our arts policy as well.
Mr. Penikett: Could I ask the Minister this question, for I think the previous government had adopted this as a matter of policy: has the new government expunged the policy?
Hon. Mr. Phillips: No, there has not been a change in the policy. It is a line item and is a matter up for discussion.
Arts Acquisition Endowment Fund in the amount of $1.00 agreed to
On Facility Development
On Living Cultural Centre
Hon. Mr. Phillips: Funding will be used to hire consultants to prepare financing and development strategies, and to prepare applications and submissions, as appropriate.
Mr. McDonald: As appropriate for what?
Hon. Mr. Phillips: For eventually building a living cultural centre.
Mr. McDonald: What is a living cultural centre?
Hon. Mr. Phillips: A living cultural centre, as has been discussed, is a cultural centre where First Nations can carry on all kinds of traditional cultural activities and, if need be, demonstrate them to the public and tourists, or use it for a training centre. It is an area of cultural display of the traditions and cultures of the First Nations people. We have had consultative talks with First Nations about this. They have appointed one of their individuals to be the contact person. We are working closely with them; in fact, they are driving the project. The consultants that will be hired and the people who will be hired to monitor the project will probably be CYI or First Nations organizations.
Mr. McDonald: In the First Nations community, who are we talking about who is driving the project? Is it the council chiefs? Is it the CYI? Is it any particular First Nation? Precisely who are we talking about?
Hon. Mr. Phillips: I have had several meetings with the chair of the Council for Yukon Indians on this matter, and she has appointed Winnie Felker as our contact person. That is with whom we are dealing.
Mr. McDonald: What is the long-term projection for this facility? What is the Minister talking about, in terms of the costs? What sense does the Minister have in terms of the cost sharing between government and First Nations?
Hon. Mr. Phillips: We have not reached that stage yet. That is what these strategies will do. They will look at the concept and what we will do with it. My view is that it would be a useful facility to First Nations for promoting their culture, tradition and heritage for their own people, as well as being a focal point for tourism. There is one in Alaska, for example. The First Nations in Alaska built one, and it is becoming one of the premiere attractions of Alaska. This would be an attraction that could eventually be built in the Yukon.
The idea has really just come up, and we are talking about it with the First Nations. There is no concept yet, other than that it will contain a lot of their traditional values and allow them to demonstrate those, or to use it to showcase them to Yukoners and visitors alike.
It has not gone much further than that. We are involving Society of Yukon Artists of Native Ancestry and Yukon Indian Development Corporation as the groups that would be spearheading the project. We are working very closely with CYI and taking some direction from them on where the project is going.
Mr. Penikett: I would comment, if I may, that, as supportive as our caucus would be of any facility like this, which both celebrate aboriginal traditions here and also provide a tourist attraction, I also feel bound to point out that there is an excellent facility in Duncan, British Columbia, that celebrates the Vancouver Island tribal cultures and the people in that area. It was heavily funded by the British Columbia government, but, unfortunately, never did attract the kind of traffic that they expected. Subsequently, it encountered serious financial problems. I would only urge, because we would want such a facility to be a success if it happens, that the government take a look at the Vancouver Island experience before proceeding very far down the road here.
Hon. Mr. Phillips: I thank the Member for that information. We will certainly do that.
Mr. McDonald: At what stage of development does the Minister expect to be at the end of this 1994-95 fiscal year? Will they have finalized a concept by that time?
Hon. Mr. Phillips: I would hope that we would have a fairly clear picture of the concept by then. That is the idea.
Living Cultural Centre in the amount of $15,000 agreed to
Arts in the amount of $21,000 agreed to
Department of Tourism agreed to
On Policy and Program Development
On Prior Years Projects
Prior Years Projects in the amount of nil agreed to
Policy and Program Development in the amount of nil agreed to
Womens Directorate agreed to
Hon. Mr. Phillips: I move that the Chair report progress on Bill No. 12.
Motion agreed to
Bill No. 11 -Second Appropriation Act, 1993-94 - continued
Department of Economic Development - continued
Hon. Mr. Devries: Mr. Chair, I would ask that we take a 10-minute break.
Chair: Do Members agree?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Chair: We will have a short recess.
Chair: I will now call Committee of the Whole to order.
Mr. McDonald: There are a few issues that we left over from the capital estimates and from our previous discussions in the Legislature that I wanted to pursue. First of all, I want to make it clear that if the Minister is prepared to offer, in the next few weeks, a briefing with officials and himself on some of the more complicated policy issues in certain specific subject areas, it may help expedite the debate in the Legislature and may actually be a more thorough exchange of real information than that which we have experienced up until now. I am speaking particularly about such items as the Northern Accord. The Minister has indicated that a negotiations update would possibly be forthcoming. If that is agreeable, I would like him to say so on the record. Also, I would like to talk a bit about a few other areas that I will identify in a few moments. Is the Minister prepared to consider that as an option?
Hon. Mr. Devries: I believe it has been mentioned to some Members of the Opposition that I am prepared to have the department give them a briefing on the Northern Accord and exactly how it works and its status. If they wish, we could perhaps give them a briefing on the EDA and where it is at; we do not really know where it is going yet since the new government has not made any overtures regarding any changes. Naturally, we are going to have to start negotiating for the next EDA very shortly, so we can perhaps brief them on where we are with that whole thing.
Mr. Penikett: I wonder if I could ask one question about the Northern Accord before the Minister surrenders us to a briefing.
Hon. Mr. Devries: I will see what I can do.
Mr. Penikett: I should declare my interest in this question first. Along with a couple of my colleagues, I spent considerable energy on the Northern Accord and endured some psychic pain to achieve an agreement with the Government Leader of the Northwest Territories with respect to the application of Yukon laws offshore in the Beaufort Sea. This is an issue that has been of concern to both sides of the House. Briefly, as the Member may know from previous debates, the way the Yukon Act was written inclined some people to believe that Yukon had no offshore - and, indeed, in law, the entire north coast was the property of the Northwest Territories, which already had two-thirds of the coastline of Canada, and none of it belonged to the Yukon.
We persisted in believing that this was a constitutional drafting error back in 1898, but nonetheless we had not succeeded, until quite recently, in reaching an agreement on the question. We had hoped, in reaching an agreement with the Northwest Territories on an administrative line, to clearly establish our interests off-shore in the Beaufort. We also wanted to establish, by agreement, that our laws would apply there in some cases and not the Northwest Territories laws.
I know that the former Opposition Leader, the Hon. Mr. Phelps, was briefed intensively about this and, in the end, we reached an agreement with the Government Leader over there that some people facetiously referred to as the Penikett/Pattison line.
I was concerned that in the material supplied in the House, about the Northern Accord, there seemed to be no mention of that agreement and no mention of our off-shore interests. I wanted to get the assurance of the Minister that somehow, after the change of government, they did not trade them away.
Hon. Mr. Devries: My understanding with respect to the offshore is that nothing has changed in dealing with that matter. There is nothing in this accord that could be construed to prejudice the ability of the Government of the Northwest Territories and the Government of Canada to enter into an oil and gas accord. There certainly is not anything that NWT should be upset about.
Mr. Penikett: The clause the Minister just read has practically nothing to do with what I was just asking about. I am not worried about upsetting the Northwest Territories. As my colleague, the Member for McIntyre-Takhini will remember, we upset the Northwest Territories considerably by pressing this point.
In fact, agreement on this issue was extremely difficult to achieve. Given that the Minister does not seem to be well-acquainted with this particular question, I wonder if I could ask for his commitment before we rise from this sitting, either as a result of an election call on Monday or as a result of exhaustion of Committee debates, to provide, by way of a short legislative return, or some other document, comfort to this side that all our work to achieve results in this area was not wasted and, in fact, in the final agreements with the Government of Canada and the Northwest Territories, that the achievement of establishing our interest in the offshore was maintained.
Hon. Mr. Devries: I will have the department review the Members question and I will assure the Member that when we give the briefing on the Northern Accord, very shortly, that the information will be made available.
Mr. Penikett: I appreciate the Ministers generosity about briefings, but I want to be very clear that my interest is in seeing a document tabled, not just in a private briefing. I appreciate the briefing, but I wonder if the Minister would commit himself to tabling information on that question?
Hon. Mr. Devries: No problem.
Mr. McDonald: I just have a couple of questions with respect to economic forecasting. In early December, the Minister was very clear that he knew what the winter Economic Forecast was all about and he in fact read a draft of the winter forecast, said that he would not change the Economic Forecast but simply wanted his Cabinet colleagues to know what was in it so that, in his words, they could answer questions the next day - the day after it was tabled - and that it was just a mechanical matter to have the document released as per usual to the public.
To say that the Ministers responses today in Question Period were a shock is an understatement, given not only the breach of precedent but also what seemed obviously to be not only a reversal of his position of only a month or six weeks ago but also appeared to suggest the Minister was not telling me the truth about his intentions.
The Minister indicated at the time that he would not vet the document. His words were, I would never do that. Today, he seemed to suggest that yes, he will in fact do that, and he will do it with some gusto. What caused the Minister to change his mind on this point, or did he ever change his mind?
Hon. Mr. Devries: I may have to clarify what I said. I had indicated that I hoped we had something ready by Christmas but that I would not make any promises. As to what the Member just spoke about, in the review of the document what we have there does not give us an accurate picture of what we felt the economic forecast should be. One of the problems we ran into is the fact that they started gathering this information as early as September/October and much of the information was outdated by the time the document was prepared. In this day and age, it seems, economic situations can change so quickly, depending on base metal prices, on gold prices and various things. Some of the time lines had already passed and the projections had not happened, so it was just not something that could be presented, as far as we were concerned - to give us an accurate picture of the economy and where it is going to be going.
At this point, I think no information is better than false information.
Mr. McDonald: I hope the Minister understands the impact of his words on people like us. Professional economists in the department put together annual winter forecasts. They are not meant to be accurate pictures of what will happen, but simply projections based on the statistical information that is generated for them in September or October and are not out of line with past practice. The problem is that perhaps the Minister, personally - and perhaps Dale Drown, and others - believes that we should have a more positive perspective; we should not enjoy the information put forward by professional economists, who use the standard statistics they have available to them. The Minister says it is his personal opinion that what the forecast should be is not what was part of the submission the economists put forward.
If the Minister would just put himself on our side of the House for a moment, he should understand how enormously patronizing that sounds, and how objectionable it seems in a democratic society that depends on the reasonably free flow of information. As much as we may respect the Minister for his outfitting ability, his sawmill management and his life experience, he has to understand that we cannot have the same faith in his judgment about economic forecasting as we would have in the officials who are paid professional economists.
It has always been the case, and the Minister even acknowledged this point back in December, that some of the information may not be good news. The Ministers words were that he wanted to pass the information to his Cabinet colleagues, so they may be able to answer questions the next day, meaning there may be questions, concerns or controversy, and that it is important, when this objective information is put on the table, that there may be some debate on it and some questions about government policy as a result. There may be some concerns that perhaps government policy is not appropriate, given the economic circumstances the territory is facing.
A Minister is not supposed to be an expert. The Minister of Education may be a very good policymaker, but one would never expect the Minister of Education to be qualified to teach in a classroom unless, in this particular case, they are talking about fish ladders.
I do not want to make light of this point too much, but it is an incredibly important point. The Minister of Economic Development is not an economist and should not be passing judgment on documents such as this, any more than the Minister responsible for the Executive Council Office should be vetting statistics.
There would be a volcanic eruption under the Clerks Table if we found out the Government Leader had decided that unemployment insurance figures were not quite correct, that the unemployment rate was not right, so he wrote in his own figure. It would not be acceptable at all. Neither is it acceptable for the Minister of Economic Development to do the same thing with the economic forecast. Can the Minister not see that point?
Hon. Mr. Devries: It is the opinion of this side that we are not satisfied with the way this forecast was developed and the way the projections are made. Our feeling is that we would like to take a look at improving the methods, such as having more economists review it. That way, we may get a more accurate perspective of what the forecast is indicating.
I will admit that there was both good and bad news in the economic forecast. It raised a lot of questions. I do not claim to be an expert, but to my practical way of thinking, I do not understand why what is being said does not agree with the graphs and so on. My feeling was that we could not present it in its present form. It would not do the general public any good to have the governments economic forecast in that form.
Mr. McDonald: Under the circumstances, I would expect to hear about the resignations of the economists in the Department of Economic Development. Obviously, the Minister has absolutely no faith in them. He is suggesting that the work that they do requires second-guessing. Presumably, there may be other economists whom the Minister would like to find who will produce a picture of events that is more in line with the political persons perspective.
The Minister is trying to be careful. He is making it clear that it is the opinion of this side. That is the first time he has used those words. It suggests to me that it may be less the influence of the Minister than it is perhaps of the communications advisor.
The Minister has said that he has shown it to a number of people and to other Cabinet Members. What worries me is that this has nothing to do with double-checking, with an economists eye, economic information produced by staff economists in the department. This has everything to do with public information management. The government is concerned that they do not want to raise questions, particularly during a House sitting. They do not want people second-guessing their actions with respect to budget policy. They want to do everything they can to avoid any further debate in this Legislature about their economic performance, and that it is the communications advisor who is telling them, in no uncertain terms, and perhaps other Ministers as well, that it is better to go through a hassle over freedom of information than it is to live with the consequences of having this document tabled and being asked questions in the Legislature as a result of it.
The Minister, being a reasonable, decent person, is going to have to understand the consequences of taking this action. When people come along and give him advice like this, or when he is tempted to think this kind of thing himself, he is saying something very significant about the reputations of people that work in his department. He is saying that he has lost confidence in their ability to provide advice to this government. He is even prepared to say that it is his opinion - and here he is putting himself in front - that this economic information is invalid. Yet, he knows he has no credentials to say such things.
I would not say such things and there is no person in this House who would be prepared under normal circumstances to say that, because we know that we are not qualified. For the Minister to stand and say that he is qualified and is making the judgment to vet the document is astounding, and the Ministers reputation is tarnished as a result of this action. The department and the Minister are all facing severe consequences as a result of this particular position being taken.
I do not understand why the Minister feels he is immune from this debate, or that he should not be presenting this information to the public so that the public can make their own judgments about the economy. If there is a legitimate debate about the particulars of this report - for instance, the transportation industry saying that they have had more activity than what is shown in the report, or the mining community saying that the government is not paying enough attention to them and that the report does not reflect an accurate picture of exploration activity over the past summer or future years - that is a legitimate debate that can take place, but it is never supposed to be the position of the Minister, ever, to say that somehow he feels that the document raises many questions and, consequently, it is the Ministers prerogative and duty to suppress the information and deny the debate, and perhaps try to project by way of a statistical analysis something that mirrors the political agenda.
I find it very unfortunate that the Minister is taking this tack. This is also going to lead to serious, serious trouble and people will assume only the worst. They will assume that the economic circumstances of this territory are truly bleak. Even the good news that the Minister admitted was in the document will be unknown. People will be assuming that the subject matter covered by that information would also be bleak.
There have been many times in the past when documents have been released by Ministers, both on this side when Members were in portfolios and on that side when the information was not good news, but the Ministers did it anyway, because they had this sense of higher duty: duty to the truth, duty to the Legislature, duty to public debate, duty to the democratic traditions of the territory and of the country.
One would expect that whatever advice they might get that might cause the Minister to feel that it might be a tad sleazy, he would resist it because they knew it was wrong. I find it amazing that this Minister would take, follow or initiate an action like this.
Hon. Mr. Devries: I know that the Members did not release one prior to the election. It might have been a timing problem. By the same token, I recognize what the Member is saying.
I am not prepared to release this forecast. I have not had the opportunity to sit down with the economists to discuss with them how they arrived at their decisions. There is no point in releasing something when you do not understand the theoretical reasoning behind it. Indications are that much of this information was outdated within a month after it was written.
Mr. McDonald: With respect to the point about the release of last years winter forecast, I want to draw the Ministers attention that the election day was October 25. The Minister indicated that this year he received a draft at the beginning of December for the winter forecast of this year. Clearly, a reasonable person would not try to suggest that this is a common occurrence. The point of the matter is - and I thought the Minister had grasped and embraced that point back in December - that the document is not supposed to be vetted.
The Minister can table it and say that he has some concerns about the information but is going to table it anyway. The point that he made at the beginning of December is that he wanted to understand what was in it and then release it. He wanted to let his Cabinet colleagues know a day in advance what was in it so that they could answer questions.
The Minister admitted on December 2 that he had already read the report. That was six weeks ago. This is now January 13, 1994. The Minister does not need six weeks to understand a simple economic forecast.
He does not need six weeks to book a few moments with his department about the winter forecast. Is he saying he had no discussions with the department during the month of December about the winter forecast? Is he saying he still does not know what is in it, that he still has not asked the basic questions of the economists to help him understand what is in it? He seemed to suggest in Question Period today that he did understand what was in it and then made the judgment that it was wrong, and that he was going to have it changed. What is the story?
Hon. Mr. Devries: As I mentioned in Question Period, the feeling is that it is not a document that would do anybody any good in its present form.
Mr. McDonald: The Minister should not be making statements like that about what are supposed to be unbiased documents, put together by particular professionals, indicating their understanding of what the economy is all about - the statistical information that underpins our economy. He should not be passing those judgments. It would be like the Minister of Education elbowing past some teacher in the classroom and saying, I do not think that you teach very well; I am going to do a better job. I have got the power; I have got the authority and the right. I am going to put myself in front of that classroom - in front of those young adults - and I am going to be telling them what the curriculum is all about, because I think I can do a better job.
Surely, the Minister can understand that that is not acceptable behaviour - particularly if the Minister does not have the credentials to say so. The Minister can make a political judgment and politicians can cast opinions on that judgment after the information is set out. The Minister or the Government Leader can issue unemployment statistics, and he can say, I do not like them or This is what I think they mean or They should not be misinterpreted because these other factors are there, which he must use to judge the actual situation. In fact, that is what the Minister has done. For the Minister of Economic Development to say, It is my professional opinion that this information is not accurate, - I would point out to the Minister that he is not a professional economist; he is a professional politician. He is saying, Not only do I make that judgment, but I do not think that the document would do you other elected people who represent 37% of the population any good. I do not think it would do you any good to read this information that I have received.
So, the Minister is saying, You may misinterpret it and it would not be good for you. Consequently, in my benevolence, when the information is vetted, I will let you know what you should be thinking.
That is not acceptable. The Minister, if he was sitting over here, would not accept that for one second, and nor should he.
I do not understand this Ministers perspective on this. Are other documents that the Department of Economic Development produces being vetted by the Minister? Is the statistical information that may emanate from his department or that is judged by his department being vetted by the Minister for political correctness? Can we no longer trust the Department of Economic Development to provide baseline information, that it is simply an arm of the communications advisors position in the Executive Council Office, which tries to provide pre-digested information that is good for us or that is particularly good for the governments own version of events? Is there nothing more that we can expect from a professional civil service than to receive politically vetted material, material that we had all used to help us as policymakers, as legislators, to pass judgment on public policy and make reasoned decisions for ourselves about where we should be going in this territory? Do we have to set up an independent commission that we can trust to provide information to us, one that is unbiased? Or does everything have to pass through, and be acceptable to, the Minister before we can read it?
How far is this policy going to go - this policy to politically vet everything?
Hon. Mr. Devries: All I want to do is ensure that the information the Members are given is as accurate as possible.
Mr. McDonald: Did the Minister vet the winter forecast for 1993?
Hon. Mr. Devries: Yes, I did.
Mr. McDonald: That information is tainted by the Ministers own version of events, then. The Minister indicated on December 2 that he would never do such a thing. Was he telling the truth then, or is he telling the truth now?
Hon. Mr. Devries: Basically, I said I had looked at it. There were some suggestions put forward. Our feeling is that it is information that is too inaccurate to present in this House, or it is not in the proper format to present in this House.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Devries: Of 1993? There was never one presented.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Devries: That was an abbreviated update.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Devries: No, I did not.
Mr. McDonald: I did not know the forecast for the winter of 1993 was abbreviated. Who abbreviated it?
Hon. Mr. Devries: The department produced a condensed version.
Mr. McDonald: The Minister had no hand in abbreviating it, or vetting it - is that correct?
Hon. Mr. Devries: I think it crossed my desk, from what I recollect, but that is about it.
Mr. McDonald: If he did the right thing in 1993, why is he not doing the right thing in 1994, and dealing with it in the same way?
Hon. Mr. Devries: Again, I do not know how many times I have to say this. With the economy changing so quickly in different areas, the information is outdated and inaccurate, and there is no point in releasing it.
Mr. McDonald: One could argue that the economy was changing and projections were more difficult to make in the winter of 1993, when people did not know what was going to happen to Curragh, than they are in 1994, when the situation is clearer.
These forecasts are only for a winter, and what is it about the economy that is changing so quickly that it is different from last year?
Hon. Mr. Devries: Many projections have been going back and forth. For instance, with Curragh, we have not seen as many people leave the Yukon as had been anticipated.
Metal prices have not been doing what had been anticipated; there had been expectations originally that metal prices would go up by the end of 1994. Gold prices have definitely gone up. There have been many irregularities taking place.
There was an anticipation that retail trade would be down; that did not happen, so every prediction that seems to have existed has not taken place.
Mr. McDonald: The Minister says that the winter forecast that he is going to keep from us said that mineral prices are going up by the end of 1994, and that he does not think that that is right. How does the Minister know?
Clearly, we have not come to the end of 1994 yet. Okay, the Minister says that he is talking about the end of 1993. Has the Minister ever read the Northern Miner and their forecasts about mineral prices? Has he followed the projections for silver prices in the last 12 years? Has he heard how high-powered, high-priced people have been wrong about those prices?
Surely, the Minister can see that a forecast is a best guess, and that is how everybody takes that information. If some investment company in Toronto, on Bay Street, says that stock is going to climb or drop, nobody takes that for the gospel truth. Even that fellow who advises us on CBC radio every couple of weeks, Gordon Pape, qualifies all of his predictions with the fact that he might be wrong. He is wrong sometimes, but people still listen to him, because he provides informed advice.
The Minister is saying that his own personal impression, based on what he hears every day, and from the papers he reads and television shows he watches, is all somehow superior, in terms of informed advice, to that of the professional economists that he employs to provide that advice. When they give Ithat advice, as they do perennially, he - for the first year, because he did not do it last year - is going to pass off to the Legislature as a professional opinion his own personal judgment about mineral prices, housing starts, unemployment, the consumer price index and transportation statistics.
The Legislature will pick up the forecast, as we usually do, and say that this is what economists say. We do pay attention to it, although we do not take it as gospel truth, because they are human beings and not all-knowing. We do assume that the calculations are reasonably well-informed. Now we are going to have to pick up everything the Minister provides and view it as John Devries vision of housing starts or mineral exploration spending for the future years or zinc prices or the number of border crossings - the Minister feels that the professionals are a little too pessimistic about the number of border crossings, so he is going to take that bar graph and bump it up a bit, because it should conform to what they hope the economy would be like next year.
Surely, the Minister knows that this is not acceptable - come on.
When it is finally vetted and the Minister has decided on the appropriate predictions for all these factors, will we be seeing the Ministers vision of the economy in the next few weeks or next month? Is the winter Economic Forecast going to come out before the end of the winter?
Hon. Mr. Devries: I do not expect to be tabling anything in the near future.
Mr. McDonald: I would even be interested in the Ministers vision of the economy. It would be very helpful in terms of understanding at least what his thinking is. Can the Minister not provide something at all for us in the next week or so?
Hon. Mr. Devries: I have discussed with the department about coming up with a shortened version but I have not come to a conclusion on that yet.
Mr. Penikett: I have been sitting here since this afternoons Question Period with chills going down my spine, a feeling which has obviously been shared by the Government Leader, who has been hiding his face behind documents ever since this discussion started. I almost think I should give him back the bag he gave me for Christmas to hide my head.
Or, perhaps I should give it to the Minister of Economic Development because I have a horrible feeling that he is going to be left holding the bag on this, even though earlier in Question Period he implicated the entire Cabinet in something that is the most scandalous thing we have seen for quite some time.
What we are talking about is suppression, the conscious suppression of public information, information developed at public expense by professionals, suppressed for political reasons by the Minister and perhaps even the whole Cabinet. I do not think that the Minister of Economic Development seems to have a clue about how serious this is.
We have an economy in deep trouble. We have a reasonable expectation that the Legislature, by now, would have received and had the benefit of the professional opinion of the experts in his department about what is going to be happening in the next few months in respect to all the key indicators of our economy: metal prices, housing starts, consumer price index, unemployment rate, mining activity, gross domestic product, and so forth.
What we have not said is an admission that not only is this information bad news, but the Legislature - the elected representatives of the people of this territory - and the people of the territory themselves are not entitled to have this information. Why not? Because it is politically Iembarrassing to the government opposite. It does not square with their view of the world. It does not fit their rosy predictions for the economy. Instead of being a neutral, apolitical, economic forecast, it has now been vetted by the Minister and, in all probability, the great media manipulator himself, Dale Drown, to find out if it puts out the right propaganda spin, so we are left in the position of, henceforth, nobody in this House ever being able to trust again a forecast from the Department of Economic Development, because we now know, by the Ministers admission, that it has been tampered with, not just rewritten and released, but suppressed, expunged, locked up in a safe and secret place where no one can see it.
I ask you rhetorically, Mr. Chair, can you imagine what would have happened to Brian Mulroney, or Jean Chretien, or any premier or minister of economic development anywhere in this country, if they said they did not like the economic forecast that was coming out, and they said so as a justification for not publishing it? Their career would be toast; their resignation would be instantly demanded; their life in politics would come to an abrupt end on all sorts of counts - the right of Members to access such information prepared by professionals at public expense, the right of the public to know what the limited expertise in the government is forecasting about the local economy.
The Minister, some months ago, admitted to us he had never read any economics, that he had no expertise whatsoever, that he is an amateur and not a professional. He is a professional politician, not a professional economist - as we all are here, but he presumed to pass judgment on the work of those economists - as my colleague, the Member for Mount McIntyre said, tell us he does not accept it, which would be fair enough if he had released the report, published it and then said, By the way, I have some problems with this. I disagree with it. That would have been the subject of some debate in the House, but that would have been well and good. That would have been proper. That would have been decent, ethical behaviour, but the Minister has a huge problem.
I am going to be careful in my choice of words but the Minister told the House on December 2 that he would never tamper with such a government document, that the release of it was imminent. He was going to discuss it with his Cabinet colleagues the next day, but its release was imminent. We now have reason to believe that something happened in that discussion with his Cabinet colleagues the next day, or something happened as the document was crossing Mr. Dale Drowns desk, that caused something wholly improper to happen, to take place.
Can you imagine what would happen to the credibility of any government in this country if it was ever discovered that whatever economic forecast, which come out periodically - the Conference Board of Canada, the Department of Finance projections on the Canadian economy - had been tampered with or suppressed by a minister. It would be game over for that minister.
Maybe it is not the Ministers fault. It may be that he has been overruled by Mr. Drown and it may be that, because he is a good, decent Christian man, he is carrying the can for him. We are going to have to find this out, because the Minister, by his own admission, has no expertise in economics.
What we are dealing with here is not an economic judgment but a political judgment about whether we, the elected representatives of the people of the Yukon, are entitled to have some information. That is not only contrary to the Public Government Act, which the Members opposite voted for but probably only liked when it applied to the NDP, not to them, but I am pretty sure it is contrary to every convention of parliamentary conduct in the English-speaking world.
What we are talking about now is that economic forecasts in this House will forever be suspect in future, because we cannot expect them to be the fairly dry, fairly neutral, fairly apolitical document coming from professional economists. For the record, I would have no problem if Mr. Drown were to clean up the spelling or to suggest that the pages may be laid out in some different format.
If, on the authority of the Minister, someone, as my colleague suggests, tampers with the charts, projections or the analysis, because by the time it is ready to be published the information is already stale dated, I would have a great problem with it. I can tell the Minister that we ran into that problem all of the time. Forecasts would come out and they did not have happy news for us, but we did not say, change that statistic, I do not like it.
In Question Period today the Minister said some incredible things. He said that he suppressed the report because it had inaccurate predictions. I would like to know on what basis the Minister could possibly know if a prediction is accurate or not. A prediction is about the future. How could the Minister now know, without any economic expertise whatsoever, that some prediction is inaccurate? The Minister might predict that the sun is not going to shine tomorrow. I would be interested in his prediction. I know that he is not a meteorologist, but he has lived here for awhile and it might be interesting to hear what he has to say about the weather. I would be more interested, though, if I were going to travel somewhere, to hear what a meteorologist, an expert, had to say about whether the sun would shine tomorrow. I also know that they could both be wrong, that neither the expert nor the amateur could say with confidence that these predictions are inaccurate until they have had the experience of history, which the Minister does not have. Winter is not over yet.
Obviously, something quite rotten happened between December 2, when the Minister gave his word that there would be no tampering with this document and that the documents release was imminent - we took him at his word and respected the decent impulses that the Minister has, at his best. Something happened on the way to publication and I guess that we have a duty to explore it.
The Minister said that he is not satisfied with the content of the document. As a former Minister, I can tell the Minister opposite that there were tons of documents that we released during our time in government that I was not satisfied with, but that did not give me the right to say that I have the ability to instruct some professional to change a statistic, or to change a health status report, or to tamper with the public accounts, or to suppress an economic forecast.
I was interested in the answer today because it implicated the whole Cabinet. Having said on December 2 that he would not tamper with the document and that he planned to release it soon, he also said he intended to bring it to Cabinet the next day before he released it. The Minister said that it raised flags - to use his expression. He said that it raised concerns and identified problems.
With the greatest of respect, I submit that is what the report is supposed to do. It is supposed to give us some kind of early warning signals. It is supposed to tell us the expert economists view of problems that may be on the horizon. It is supposed to tell us the expert economists view of trends, like metal prices. It is supposed to tell us of trends in metal prices or unemployment.
Unless the Minister moves quickly to restore some integrity to the economic forecasts of his department, we have big problems here. I do not want to have to read economic forecasts that are a product of Dale Drowns newspeak. We do not want economic forecasts that are political propaganda. We want neutral, apolitical, expert opinion from the economists, the econometricians and the statisticians, who are paid to provide objective, professional, clean information, not only to the Minister, but also to the public. I do not want to see an economic forecast on which, by implication, will have to carry the Government Leaders title, Dont worry, be happy, even though the trend lines are all negative.
I want to ask the Minister if he will now admit that he has made a serious error, and table in this House immediately the economic forecast as it was drafted by the professional economists in his department. If not, why not?
Hon. Mr. Devries: As I indicated earlier, in its present format, I am not prepared to table it. There are areas in which indications are that assumptions were made that are questionable. I am not going to table a document in this House that could create more problems than it solves.
Mr. Penikett: The Auditor Generals report could create huge problems for the government. The monthly unemployment statistics could create huge problems for the government. The Public Accounts Committee report could create huge problems for the government. Does the Minister seriously think he has the right to suppress these documents because they would be politically embarrassing for him?
I want to ask the Minister again a direct question. I want to ask him what right does he, an amateur - completely uneducated in economics - have to cast judgment on the work of the professional economists? Why does he not do what every other minister would have done and what every other minister has to do everywhere else in the English-speaking world, and certainly in this country, and table the report. If he has problems with it, he should comment publicly, as everyone else does. Why will he not do that?
Hon. Mr. Devries: I would be going through this whole process with the Members, who would say that I tabled false information. Either way, it is a no-win situation. I do not know what the Member is talking about.
As I indicated, we started this very early. It has dragged out too long. In the future, if we produce anything of this nature, I feel that it has to be done within a two-month time frame. This has been about five months in the making. It just does not work that way.
Mr. Penikett: The Minister is equivocating. Back in December, he told us that he had a draft ready, and that he had read it. He indicated no problem with the draft then. He said it had to be whipped through Cabinet and run by others - he did not indicate Dale Drown, but by implication, we know that by others, he was referring to Dale Drown - before it became public.
As an ethical human being, what does he think is worse: suppressing bad news - information that would be politically unpalatable for the government - or standing in his place and defending his own view of the economy versus that of the professionals, after it had been made public? In the moral universe, what does he think is worse?
Hon. Mr. Devries: The Member is trying to put words in my mouth. He is misstating what I said in December. I said I had reviewed a draft that should be ready very shortly. Upon further review, we discovered some inconsistencies, and that is why it is not being tabled at this time, and why I do not plan to table it in the near future.
Mr. Penikett: A great American writer once said that consistency is the hobgoblin of a weak mind.
The Government House Leader is telling me to knock it off. We have a scandalous situation here, with the Minister admitting to suppressing public information, and I am being told to knock it off. The Minister has told us that, even though we are elected by the public, we should not have the right to know what professional economists, paid for with taxpayers money, think about the Yukon economy.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Penikett: Now, I am slandering, because I am trying to get answers to questions, and trying to get a release of public information.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Penikett: I would like to know what is unparliamentary about asking questions, or demanding to know why a Minister suppressed an important document?
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Penikett: The Government House Leader says I know better than to ask questions about something like this. The Government House Leader must have a very poor idea of what I am elected to do, if he thinks I should not be asking questions about document suppression.
Point of Order
Hon. Mr. Phillips: The Member knows better than to use unparliamentary language. That Member has continually been reprimanded by Members of this House for the unparliamentary language he uses. He has the right to ask questions, but he has to ask them using parliamentary language. That is what he has to do.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Penikett: This is obviously just a diversionary tactic by some Member who is deeply embarrassed by what the government is doing. I do not know what the unparliamentary language was. I am beginning to think that any sentence with a question at the end of it is unparliamentary, from their point of view. Any sentence with a question mark at the end is unacceptable, unparliamentary and illegal. We must suppress it. We are only entitled to know what Dale Drown wants us to know.
I suspect there is no point of order.
Chair: The questions are in order. I would just remind Members to calm down and continue to ask questions on this manner.
Mr. Penikett: I want to go on the record, because the Minister has admitted suppressing this public information, paid for with taxpayers dollars, not intended for him alone, not a Cabinet secret, it is not private information, it is not secret information under the definition of even the antiquated Access to Information Act.
It is public information paid for by taxpayers dollars. Will the Minister tell us again what right he has to suppress this document - not some babble that he thinks it is inconsistent or, what were some of the other words he used, that he is not satisfied with it, or that it contained inaccurate predictions and other nonsense statements like that?
I ask him, as a Minister of the Crown, what right he has to suppress this information? And I ask him in the context of his statements in Hansard on December 2, where, when asked by my colleague, the Member for McIntyre-Takhini, in answer to a question about the winter Economic Forecast last year and this coming year, asked if there was a winter forecast for 1993-94 and the Hon. Mr. Devries is quoted as saying, I have reviewed a draft that should be ready very shortly.
Mr. McDonald went on to ask, Does very shortly mean prior to Christmas? Does it mean next week? Hansard records that some hon. Member said something inaudible. Mr. McDonald then said, I had better let the Minister speak for himself.
The Minister said,"Thanks for the help. Basically, as I have indicated, I have reviewed the draft. I would have to run it by my colleagues, and then I hope it would be ready by Christmas, but I am not making any promises."
Later on Mr. McDonald asked, The Minister says that he is going to pass it by his colleagues. He is not making reference to the fact that he wants to vet it politically... to determine that it is politically correct, prior to its release, ...is he?
Mr. Devries says, I would never do that;....
Hon. Mr. Devries: When it was reviewed, we discovered that it brought many questions to our minds and at this point we are not prepared to release it.
Mr. Penikett: The Minister has not answered the question. The obvious question is, why is he not prepared to let those same questions come to the minds of the Legislature or the whole community? This is, or was until October 19, still a democracy.
Let me phrase the question again. Let me ask the Minister, in his understanding of his ministerial duties, what right he has to suppress this professional evaluation, paid for with taxpayers money? In law, he has two rights: it is either a government secret, a Cabinet confidence of some kind, or it is a matter of disclosing private information about an individual. So I am going to ask him this: what right does he have to suppress this information?
Hon. Mr. Devries: I have to repeat that, in reviewing the document - as far as the graphs and the figures are concerned - there is no problem with it. It is just that some of the assumptions have been brought into question. I consider myself to be fairly non-political but I am just not prepared to table it in its present form.
Mr. Penikett: Could I recommend that we take a short break, because I am not a mean-minded person and I think the Minister should go and think very seriously about what he has just said. Before he digs himself a hole out of which he cannot climb, I think he should go and talk to his colleagues, talk to the Government Leader, and think very carefully about the position he is putting himself in. We are dealing with an issue of profound importance here and the debate on his department cannot proceed very far until we settle this question.
Can I recommend, Mr. Chair, a short break?
Chair: Is it the wish of the Members to take a brief recess at this time?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Chair: We will take a brief recess.
Chair: I will now call Committee of the Whole to order. Is there further general debate on Economic Development?
Mr. McDonald: I have a few other issues that I want to discuss, but before I do, I would like the Minister to confirm that the winter Economic Forecast will be tabled on Monday. Is that correct?
Hon. Mr. Devries: Yes, we will be tabling the report that I had concerns with on Monday.
Mr. McDonald: There are a number of other issues that I would like to canvass quickly. If the Minister would like to provide some information about the policy behind these issues, I would really appreciate it, or perhaps we can discuss a briefing later on.
The first issue is the energy policy. The Minister has indicated that the Department of Economic Development is the lead department in developing this policy. At the same time, we have been given to believe that the Yukon Development Corporation has also let contracts to consultants to develop policy, particularly in the industrial use of energy.
Could I ask the Minister what the line of responsibility is between the Department of Economic Development and the Yukon Energy Corporation with respect to the development of the policy. I would like the Minister to tell us at what stage the policy development is. Will there be a public discussion process? Will it involve working documents such as those that were produced for the public in the spring of 1992? How will this energy policy proceed? When does the Minister expect to conclude work on the comprehensive strategy?
Hon. Mr. Devries: The energy policy we are working on deals exclusively with electrical energy. At this point, we are in the process of developing a white paper, which will be circulated among the stakeholders for input in regard to the industrial energy pricing section. Then there is another stage that will be worked on - the next stage. We work closely with Yukon Energy, but it is Economic Development that is working on the industrial energy pricing policy.
Yukon Energy is currently, or will be very shortly, working on the independent power producers portion of the overall strategy. Those are the two phases that we are working on right now.
Mr. McDonald: I would like to ask the Minister about time lines. First of all, regarding the white paper he referred to, is that only industrial energy pricing that is at issue, or are we talking about a more comprehensive energy policy - dealing with electrical energy - but a more comprehensive energy policy that would incorporate all facets of producing energy, energy conservation, et cetera?
I draw the Ministers attention to the legislative return in response to a question from the Member for Riverdale South, which explained a contract let by the Yukon Energy Corporation to Intergroup Consulting. It involved professional services and advice related to the development of an industrial rate policy - a $25,000 contract. I am a little confused as to who is actually doing the work. He says the Economic Development department is the lead, but it appears that the Energy Corporation is also doing some considerable ground work on this question. Can he clear that up for me?
Hon. Mr. Devries: The paper we are working on is fairly narrowly focused on the industrial pricing policy. This is being vetted by a consultant who is doing some work for the Yukon Energy Corporation. However, Economic Development is essentially doing the work, and we are getting some advice from the consultant.
We hope that this white paper will be circulated by the end of this month among the various stakeholders, from the CYI to the Chamber of Mines, chambers of commerce and anyone else who is interested.
Mr. McDonald: I understand then that the white paper is going to be a public document in one month or so. Is that correct?
Hon. Mr. Devries: Yes.
Mr. McDonald: Will the Yukon Energy Corporation be providing advice, through the consultant, to the Department of Economic Development? The Minister said vetting, but he probably meant advice.
We have been talking rather a lot about vetting this afternoon. It has some negative connotations we do not necessarily want to apply to this particular project.
What happened to the comprehensive energy policy? Why was I under the impression that the government was interested in producing such a policy?
Hon. Mr. Devries: This is just one of the many steps leading toward the development of a comprehensive policy.
Mr. McDonald: Is there a plan to do this? This could be considered as a step toward a comprehensive energy policy, but does the Department of Economic Development have it in its strategic plan to complete it? Do they have time lines for it? I know that, between the department and the Yukon Energy Corporation, they have produced some very thorough discussion documents on the subject of a comprehensive policy. Are they not considered appropriate now to be amended to be used in the development of a comprehensive energy policy? Does the government feel that a comprehensive energy policy is a desirable goal to achieve in the near future?
Hon. Mr. Devries: We could very well use that material as we develop the overall policy, but right now our priority is to get this industrial pricing strategy or policy into place so that we have something when various companies come to us asking for power rates and things like that.
Once this is done, and the IPP, then we will be looking at the broader picture to try and put it all together into a comprehensive policy. These will be two components of that policy - it is not as if there would be a duplication of effort. We will make sure it is going to fit into our overall policy.
Mr. McDonald: I can appreciate that desire, that goal, although one would think that, in order to ensure that each individual segment of a comprehensive energy policy was consistent one way or another, certain principles that would be part of a comprehensive umbrella strategy would be developed so that the individual components would jibe, one with the other, and would not conflict in any way.
There has been a lot of talk in the Legislature - I know the Member for Riverside has expressed a lot of interest in the subject, as have many of us - about the future of alternative energy producers and what kind of public support they might receive from government. There has been some talk, even in the Legislature here, even from Members on the government side, about the ability of independent producers to feed into the electrical grid, so there is some concern about where they are going and how they fit in. There has been a lot of talk in this Legislature about energy conservation measures - still very current - with political discussion about both at the municipal level and the territorial level. All these things, and many others, are subjects that of course would be addressed in a comprehensive policy. I am asking the Minister whether or not he would be prepared to consider developing a strategy that would embrace more of these elements, at least at the discussion stage, so that we can perhaps come to some conclusions about comprehensive strategy sooner than is contemplated currently.
Hon. Mr. Devries: Partly because of the time lines, at this point our priorities are toward developing an industrial pricing policy. Meanwhile, we have Yukon Energy working on the industrial pricing policy.
We are definitely in the development of these policies. We will ensure that it fits within the overall framework of what we have in mind.
Mr. McDonald: The one thing I have to say to the Minister is that he has faith. Normally, certain principles are established and the offshoots are developed. There is a much greater chance that the individual components of a comprehensive policy can be integrated if the principles are the same for all of them.
Being that as it may, we will pursue that more thoroughly during the spring sitting, when we have a better idea. Perhaps the white paper will be out by that time and we will be able to pursue this. There may be other Members who want to ask about this, but I have one more question about the Yukon Energy Corporations involvement in the policy development.
The Inter-group Consulting company also has a consulting contract for $50,000 on the subject of integration of the Yukon Energy Corporation and the Yukon Electrical Company Limited. Is the subject matter that is part of that discussion also, in part, a subject on which debate will be led by the Department of Economic Development, or is that going to be something that the Yukon Energy Corporation is going to decide for itself?
Hon. Mr. Devries: That aspect of it is more in the hands of the Yukon Development Corporation and the Yukon Energy Corporation.
Mr. McDonald: It is a little unfortunate that we do not vote money in the Legislature for the Yukon Energy Corporation or the Yukon Development Corporation, so it does not allow us an opportunity to actually pursue these issues at any great length. We have to do it during more formal sessions other than Question Period or motion debates. It is unfortunate, for that reason alone, that Economic Development does not have more of a handle on this.
Does the Minister feel that to have the Yukon Energy Corporation decide this issue alone, outside the context of a comprehensive energy strategy, which is the ultimate goal of the Department of Economic Development, is a problem in any way?
Hon. Mr. Devries: As the Member very well knows, the Energy Corporation works at arms-length from government, and that is the area they are working on. Naturally, we do have discussions, from time to time, to try to integrate our two goals. They are working on it independently, at this point.
Mr. Cable: I have a few question to follow up on the previous Members questions and also some questions on the Economic Forecast. It appears to me that there is a conflict between the utilities interests and the interests of the small generators of electricity that might want to hook up to the system, under the IPP policy. In that sense it should be the government, as opposed to the utility, that should lead the development of that portion of the policy. I refer particularly to the rights to hook up to the system and the pricing of the electricity. Would the Minister reconsider the fact that the Energy Corporation, a utility, is developing that part of the policy, and take that back again?
Hon. Mr. Devries: As I had mentioned earlier, our priority is to develop an industrial pricing policy. Yukon Development Corporation is working on the IPP. If indications develop that there could be a conflict there, I am sure once we have the industrial pricing policy together, we would probably get direction to take that over from the Yukon Development Corporation. I would not know at this point.
Mr. Cable: I am not suggesting that the Energy Corporation will not do a good job on it, but the final vetting of it, I would suggest, should be done by the Minister and his staff.
On another issue, as part of the comprehensive energy policy, we have watched what has happened in the last year when a major customer has shut down and the whole system has been thrown into a monstrous flap. The issue of risk absorption was discussed in the papers that were put out by the previous government as being an element of energy policy. Is the Minister prepared to address that issue as part of the comprehensive energy policy?
Hon. Mr. Devries: Yes, and it is already mentioned in the white paper we are developing because that is a major component of coming up with an industrial pricing policy.
Mr. Cable: The issue I was talking about was the issue of who absorbs the cost of a major customer going down. Is it the customer, the government or the ratepayer? That was cause for a lot of grief in the last year, when the government was attempting to react to the shutdown of Curragh and the effects it had on the remaining customers on the system. Is the Minister prepared to put that particular issue, assuming he did not understand what I was initially saying, into the comprehensive energy policy package?
Hon. Mr. Devries: Certainly.
Mr. Cable: The issue of energy conservation, while it may not be as critical as it was a year and a half ago, certainly is a critical issue on this small system with its high-priced electricity. Is the Minister prepared to put energy conservation or demand-side management, as it is euphemistically called, into the comprehensive energy policy development?
Hon. Mr. Devries: All of those issues regarding energy would be issues that would come up during the development of this comprehensive energy policy. I am sure that there will be many public meetings about this policy. I appreciate the Members input and he will have much more opportunity during those public meetings to provide his input into the development of this policy.
Mr. Cable: It was thought late in 1992 that a comprehensive energy policy would be ready in December of the year past. That time line has obviously passed. What is the target date for the production of a comprehensive energy policy?
Hon. Mr. Devries: Right now we are prioritizing on the industrial pricing strategy and we do not have a target date established. As the Member may recall, if he followed the previous administrations goals of developing their energy strategy, I believe the time lines were much longer than they had anticipated.
Mr. Cable: I have some comments on the topic of the economic forecast. The Minister mentioned some caveats and if we are to make some sense out of this and respond to what the Minister said today, on several occasions, it would be useful to get some expression of those caveats.
Is the Minister prepared to release his view on which premises are incorrect? The Minister spent considerable time indicating that he was a little leery of releasing the report, because some of the premises were incorrect. Is the Minister prepared to tell us which of those premises he does not agree with?
Hon. Mr. Devries: Yes, I could possibly do that when we release the document on Monday.
Mr. Cable: I gather the forecast is done on a regular basis and is used for some specific purposes. The Government Leader is shaking his head, so I guess the answer to that part of the question is no. This is an easy way to get a bunch of questions answered at once. Regarding the forecast that is going to be released on Monday, for what purpose was the forecast prepared?
Hon. Mr. Devries: My understanding is that a forecast gives the general public an idea of where the economists feel the economy is going, and they make decisions based upon that information.
Mr. Cable: Does the public service use the document for any purposes?
Hon. Mr. Devries: Some of the information contained in it would be used by the public service.
Mr. Cable: For example, would the calculation of the tax streams be based on the information that is found in the Ministers forecast?
Hon. Mr. Devries: Most of that information is based on statistics that we receive from Statistics Canada.
Mr. Cable: Most of what information?
Hon. Mr. Devries: I forget the exact terminology the Member used - something regarding tax predictions.
Mr. Cable: I assume this exercise has some internal purpose for the public service. Why would the government go through the exercise of preparing this economic forecast and then just sort of toss it out to the general public for their own use? Surely, it must have some internal government use. Would it be used for calculating social assistance costs, for example? Does it perhaps have unemployment rate projections in it?
Hon. Mr. Devries: Copies of it are requested by banks, lending institutions, chambers of commerce, et cetera, and therefore it is important that it be accurate.
Mr. Cable: Is it used in any fashion in the preparation of a budget, for example? Are there any numbers in there that are relevant in any way to the preparation of the budget?
Hon. Mr. Devries: The problem with budget preparation is that it is done in early July and August, well before much of the work has even begun on the winter forecast. A lot of the information comes from Statistics Canada and such agencies.
Mr. Cable: I guess the next question is this: what was the big secret earlier this afternoon? It appears that it is not used for very much. I guess that is more a comment than a question.
Does the Minister intend to prepare this forecast on an annual basis?
Hon. Mr. Devries: We want to review how it is done. We will issue a ministerial statement on that someday.
Mr. Cable: If we are not using the forecast - the Minister obviously feels that there are problems with it - what sort of forecasting information is being used in the preparation of the budget? We have heard about Statistics Canada being used for the income tax streams. Was there anything else?
Hon. Mr. Devries: I am not the Minister of Finance. I think that question would be better directed to him.
Mr. Cable: Surely one of the functions of the Department of Economic Development - I suppose I could hurriedly go through the budget and find listings of departmental functions - is to supply information to other departments to be used for forecasting and budget building. Is that not accurate?
Hon. Mr. Devries: Yes, they do use our economists for various projections. However, again, I would suggest that those questions are better directed to the Minister of Finance.
Mr. Harding: I have some questions for the Minister regarding the mining industry and, more specifically, the sale of the former Curragh Inc. mines. I will try and get an idea from the Minister about exactly what is happening.
It is my understanding from listening to the radio this morning that prices were quoted in the area of 45 cents for zinc and 22 cents for lead. That, in conjunction with a very low Canadian dollar, bodes well for the zinc industry in Canada. Prices are still low on zinc, and would have to recover a bit more. What is the department telling the Minister - the people who watch the metals market - about that in relation to our zinc assets in the territory?
Hon. Mr. Devries: Naturally, the first thing is that the Sa Dena Hes assets would have to be sold. We know who the prospective owners are going to be. The final decision will be made on January 24. We are very pleased to see the prices coming up, but there is still a big concern about the fact that we have almost 900,000 tonnes of concentrates sitting around, waiting to be processed.
Mr. Harding: The Minister must be referring to the inventories on the London Metal Exchange. Is that correct? I see him nodding his head yes.
Given that, last sitting, I filed a motion for the production of papers for the Micon study that was prepared by the government when Curragh still had the potential to operate, would the Minister be prepared to table this study?
With the low Canadian dollar, and the price increases, the mine becomes much closer to the feasibility point, from the information we have. This Micon study was paid for. We spent almost $250,000 on the Burns Fry work, and it was fairly intensive. There were negotiations on the loan guarantee, as well as a financial analysis of the company. We have never been able to clearly tell what the Micon people felt about the viability of the Grum ore body and the Dy deposit, which have a major impact on whether or not we are getting close to a feasible range in prices, coupled with the low Canadian dollar.
I am quite pleased with the price increases. For a long time, I know we operated with about 18-cent lead. There were very low lead prices for the last couple of years. For a long time, when the Governor of the Bank of Canada was fighting inflation, and we had jacked up interest rates, we had a Canadian dollar that was in the 88-cent to 89-cent range. I was also told by the company - and I do not know how accurate it was - that a one-cent drop in the Canadian dollar could mean over $2 million in revenues for the company. Now, we are at 75-cent to 76-cent dollars, which is a substantial drop.
Would the government now be prepared to table the Micon study, so we could take a look at the feasibility of the Grum ore body, as assessed by that independent body, and paid for by us?
Hon. Mr. Devries: As the Member knows, this was jointly funded by the federal government. There is proprietary information in it and the agreement that existed when that contract was signed was that it not become public information. Whether five or six years down the road it can, I do not know, but at this point we are not allowed to release it publicly.
Mr. Harding: I will have to take the Ministers word on that agreement. I have not seen the details of the confidentiality agreement but I do remember a lot of the discussions we had about it.
Could the Minister give me some idea of the governments view of the feasibility point for the mine in Faro? Could they tell us what they feel would be prices - and this could be an estimate - that would make the mine feasible or attractive to a buyer, given where the Canadian dollar is right now?
Hon. Mr. Devries: That is very difficult to determine as we do not know what price the buyer is going to have to pay for the company. Naturally, the investment will determine the price they would need to operate at a profit. Anything we say would just be a wild guess.
Mr. Harding: I do not think it would be a wild guess. I think the Minister is overstating it - and I see the Government Leader nodding to the Minister not to answer that. I think the Minister is overstating it by saying it would be a wild guess. There are some baselines that we could establish in this area, given some assumptions about what someone might pay for the property. Has the department done any projections, based on some set of circumstances and a price paid for the property, and given the information they have from the Micon report, on what would the feasibility point would be? Have they done any of those calculations?
Hon. Mr. Devries: Again, the Micon report does not give us much assistance in that area because it was based on the Curragh operation and how it operated. It almost becomes redundant materially, in that sense.
As far as price goes, I do not know. I am not going to stand here and project what someone is going to bid for the mine, and things like that.
Mr. Harding: The Member for Riverdale North says that the price that the companies want to pay is up to the companies, and I certainly understand that.
Certainly, the Ministers can understand why I might have some questions about this. I have not asked the questions for a long time and I am very keen to find out the exact position of the government and to obtain as much information as I can about the mine sale. I am going to continue to ask these questions, and if the government feels that they cannot give me these answers they can say so and we can discuss it.
The Minister has now said that the government cannot ascertain what a feasible price would be, but they have said to me in the past that they have had discussions with potential buyers. Have there been any discussions about price with the government? Is the government aware of any potential bids that were made on the Faro mine assets that might be able to give them some baseline in terms of a feasibility point?
Hon. Mr. Devries: No, my indications are that the companies are still working on the various documents that are available to determine the environmental liability and to determine a price. No one has given us any ballpark figures.
Mr. Harding: The court documents that were filed by the receiver, Peat Marwick, who is handling the Faro assets receivership, were filed in Toronto around December 17, indicate that, at that time, the receiver - according to the December 10 letter - stated that there were 53 prospective purchasers contacted about the mine sale. They were sent prospectuses or some form of information. The receiver commented that 38 of those prospective purchasers had no interest in the property. That left 15. Does the Minister know if that is still the number of prospective purchasers who have indicated some interest? Has it risen, or fallen, or have new people come into the equation?
Hon. Mr. Devries: I do not recall the exact wording of the document to which the Member is referring. The receiver sent out 53 prospectuses to people who they thought might be interested. It was very shortly thereafter that they wrote off a fair number of them as not being interested. I cannot divulge the exact numbers until we receive the next report from the receiver.
Mr. Harding: Is there some reason for that? I could understand them not wanting to release the names, but would the numbers of companies not be public information?
Hon. Mr. Devries: A lot of the information we receive has very tight confidentiality restrictions. It is difficult for me to discern whether I am getting it from a court document, which is public, or from one of these. I would have to get back to the Member in writing on that.
Mr. Harding: I would appreciate if the Minister could provide that information for me.
We have been over some of the aspects of this report in the past, but I do think, given that it is January 13 today and the report has been out for a month, we do need to delve into what exactly the government is up to in this area. A quote from page 6 of the court document filed December 16 says, All prospective purchasers have indicated that they cannot make a definitive offer until they have conducted further investigations and negotiations with affected parties with respect to various matters, including environmental liability, reclamation obligations and local infrastructure requirements.
It goes on to say, quote, during the requested extension period, which is February 25, the interim receiver will meet with prospective purchasers and, secondly, will meet with other affected parties, including environmental regulators and the territorial government, to facilitate the negotiation of issues of concern to potential purchasers, and work with the prospective purchasers and other affected parties, including the regulators and local government, to conclude a letter of intent and, ultimately, an agreement to purchase and sale, that the interim receiver will be prepared to recommend to the court for acceptance. This is a very important section in the document that was filed.
Can the Minister give us an update as to how many discussions they have had, or whatever he can tell us about the discussions that the territorial government has had with prospective purchasers? Could he also tell us of any discussions he is aware of with the federal government on the issues identified by the receiver as concerns of potential buyers, in the interim period, since the last time I asked him about this?
Hon. Mr. Devries: Discussions with prospective purchasers have been very limited up to this point. We are almost in daily contact with the federal government with regard to the environmental liability, and things like that. Also, the interim receiver has been made aware that if any prospective buyers wish to sit down with YTG, we are prepared to sit down with them at any time and discuss things.
Mr. Harding: I see the Government House Leader pointing to the Minister for reporting progress, but I have a question I want to get on the record today.
Has the federal government identified what they consider the environmental liability? Have they taken a firm position on the environmental liability, since their government has had so many discussions with them on the issue?
Hon. Mr. Devries: My understanding is that they do have a position, but that is confidential information, at this point.
Mr. Harding: Can the Minister appreciate why it is frustrating for us to try to find out some of these details? Why would that position be confidential? It would seem to me to be a matter of public interest economically, environmentally, socially here in the territory, and to all Canadians, given that it is a matter under the jurisdiction of the federal government.
What is the reason given for the confidentiality on the environmental liability? Why would the federal government take a position regarding the environment when the territorial government has taken the position that they will not take a position until an offer is made?
Hon. Mr. Devries: The federal government, like any other party, would like to try and get as much money out of this as it can and my understanding is that they have established a bottom-line negotiating position and that is why they do not want to disclose what that position is.
Mr. Harding: The Minister has just told me that the federal government has established a bottom-line negotiating position. I have made numerous requests for the territorial government to do the same, given the comments by the receiver that he has heard from potential purchasers.
Has the territorial government, like the federal government, established a bottom-line negotiating position?
Hon. Mr. Devries: No, we do not have a negotiating position. At this time, Mr. Chair, I move that you report progress on Bill No. 12.
Motion agreed to
Hon. Mr. Phillips: I move that the Speaker do now resume the Chair.
Motion agreed to
Speaker resumes the Chair
Speaker: I will now call the House to order.
May the House have a report from the Chair of Committee of the Whole?
Mr. Abel: The Committee of the Whole has considered Bill No. 12, entitled First Appropriation Act, 1994-95, and Bill No. 11, entitled Second Appropriation Act, 1993-94, and directed me to report progress on them.
Speaker: You have heard the report of the Chair of Committee of the Whole. Are you agreed?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Speaker: I declare the report carried.
Hon. Mr. Phillips: I move that the House do now adjourn.
Speaker: It has been moved by the Hon. Government House Leader that the House do now adjourn.
Motion agreed to
Speaker: This House stands adjourned until 1:30 p.m. Monday next.
The House adjourned at 5:26 p.m.
The following Legislative Returns were tabled January 13, 1994:
Public schools miscellaneous equipment: typical school equipment; miscellaneous equipment capital; per capita formula (Phillips)
Oral, Hansard, p. 1751
Office space: proposal calls as opposed to tender calls used to obtain (Devries)
Oral, Hansard, p. 1815
Office space: two leases only with initial term greater than five years; list of leases of five years with renewal options (Devries)
Oral, Hansard, p. 1816